Pegasus Project: How Forbidden Stories and Amnesty Tech Broke the Story

Around 50,000 records of phone numbers were accessed by Forbidden Stories and Amnesty Tech following which media houses decided to meet in Paris.

Pegasus Project

The Pegasus Project comprises of more than 80 journalists from 17 media houses in 10 countries. The project uncovered how Israeli surveillance firm NSO has enabled various authoritarian governments to embed Pegasus spyware onto the phones of various journalists, activists, opposition politicians, etc.

The project started with more than 50,000 records of phone numbers, accessed by Forbidden Stories and Amnesty Tech. The aim was to then delve deeper by puttng faces and stories behind the numbers. Forbidden Stories accessed records of phone numbers selected as targets by NSO clients. The NSO has actually denied this claim of surveillance, by stating that its clients i.e. “vetted governments”, might have used these numbers for “other purposes”.

Forbidden stories official twitter account states-

“Through open-source research, colleague’s phone books and the technical know-how of Amnesty Tech, we began to put together the outline of the stories that were released this week. We knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime leak and we needed to join forces with our partners to have the greatest impact.”

Forbidden Stories founder Laurent Richard and EIC Sandrine Rigaud made the first calls to newsrooms around the world. This was done with the utmost secrecy. Media houses agreed to meet in Paris, however, they knew very little about the data and the stories on the matter. The Wire, Le Monde, The Guardian, Washington Post, Die Zeit, Suddeutsche Zeitung and 10 other Mexican, Arab and European news organisations went on to be a part of a collaborative investigation called the ‘Pegasus Project’.

Journalists communicated through secure channels with each other, reporting from over 10 countries: France, India, Belgium, Mexico, Lebanon, the UK and the US. Testimonies, additional data and interviews, documents, etc were collected as part of their investigations.

Forensic tests were conducted as part of the project on a small cross-section of phones associated with the numbers on the lists. The cross section revealed clear signs of targeting by Pegasus spyware in 37 phones.

Reports by Israeli media outlets have begun to circulate, aiming to discredit the Pegasus project, by taking quotes from Forbidden Stories and Amnesty Tech out of context. This same method has been picked up by a number of Indian politicians as well.

This is not surprising since the Israeli state has links to the NSO as uncovered by the Pegasus Project, and there has been increasing diplomatic pressure on the Israeli Govt. since the news broke. Israeli news reports also have reported that the government is to start a task force to look into potential policy changes in cyber-exports.

Read: Pegasus Project: Israel to Set Up ‘Task Force’ to Look into Policy Changes in Cyber Exports


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April 2024



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